Birch water – a new liquid forestry investment?

Health foods and drinks are big business and they’re set to get even bigger as regulations cracking down on high sugar content products gain popularity and consumer interest in health options rises.

In the US, the city of Berkeley, California has already imposed a tax on soda and San Francisco has this month (June 2016) voted on whether it wants to follow suit with a similar tax, as well as warnings on packaging for health risks such as obesity, diabetes and tooth decay on beverages with added sugar.

Debate in the UK continues over their own sugar tax, but the inclusion of the tax in the country’s March Budget suggests it’s on track to becoming a reality.

Meanwhile, organic produce body The Soil Association predicted that the organic market is set to continue to grow steadily in 2016 with a 4.9 per cent growth rate forecasted. If accurate, it will mark the third consecutive year of growth as consumer interest in organic and health foods continues to rise.

The blend of these changes is throwing up some interesting new opportunities for investors, as a drive to meet the demand for new health products casts attention on new and unusual products.

As a multi-billion dollar business, it’s understandable that businesses and investors are keen to get a piece of the drinks industry. So if sweet fizzy pop is out, what’s in?

Water.

But not just any old H2O out of the tap — it’s the unusual and previously barely heard-of waters that consumers are showing interest in, and while coconut water continues to enjoy high demand, it is birch water that’s being tipped as the next big thing.

Harvested from birch trees, the sap is drinkable straight from the tree, and in Finland, one of the largest markets for the drink, it’s only possible to harvest for a few weeks in the springtime. Harvesters take between 40 and 200 litres of sap from a tree during that harvest period — to take all of their liquid would damage the tree, so growers are careful in the harvest process. Once gathered, the sap is treated, packaged and sent around the world for sale.

The practice is long established in Finland and other densely forested countries. But people like Charlie Hoare, an entrepreneur who partnered with birch water producer Nordic Koivu to create the brand Tapped, is helping to make it a global product and business.

In a recent feature in the Financial Times, Hoare insisted that he isn’t trying to “steal coconut water’s sales”, but asserted instead that they are “all part of a new market for healthy hydration”.

James Barrett, GWD Forestry spokesman, commented: “Since the boom in the coconut water industry, businesses have been looking for ‘the next big thing’ in what’s clearly an increasingly popular niche market.

“It’s too early to say if that thing is birch water, but we certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see sales continue to grow, especially as the product fits in nicely to the low calorie, high nutrition sector of the health beverages market.

“What we’re interested in now is how best to manage the birch trees themselves, especially given the short period of harvesting. Will businesses look to existing forest owners or consider investing in new crops? Either way, there are some intriguing new opportunities on the horizon.”

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